Australia’s union movement has aligned itself with a number of key Labor ministers to urge the Morrison government to pick up the slack when it comes to putting together and then approving a 2050 deadline on zero environmental emissions.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) advocated on Monday that, in pointing to a Climate Change Bill being introduced by Zali Steggall in Monday’s Parliamentary business and supporting the creation of a Climate Change Commission as included in the language of Steggall’s Bill, Australia and the LNP government should join the likes of China, Japan, South Korea and the United States in dedicating itself to a common target.
And in doing so, the ACTU points to the economic benefits – particularly for an Australia currently in the throes of a once-in-a-generation recession – of joining other nations towards this goal.
“Under successive coalition governments we have fallen behind the rest of the world. We are out of step with key allies and trading partners. This bill represents an opportunity to get back on track,” said Michelle O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.
“The end of the Trump administration will likely lead to renewed global action to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Australia cannot afford a Government which continues to lag behind.
“The ACTU’s policy is to call for net zero emissions by 2050 and a just transition for all workers who will be effected by the changes that are necessary to meet those targets,” O’Neil added.
Steggall, the Independent member for Warringah in New South Wales, has defended that her Bill will not only influence the current government to comply with protocols that other international powers in the Pacific region have joined up with, but also cites examples in Europe where a skeletal plan leads to other steps towards the ultimate goal.
“Framework legislation is tried and proven legislation that has worked in overseas jurisdictions like the United Kingdom, France and Ireland. It has reduced emissions, helped those countries adapt to climate impacts, and advanced the climate change debate by taking the politics out of it,” said Steggall.
“It works by setting a long-term pathway to net-zero emissions and helps guide decision-making to meet that target. It does this by requiring interim targets or emissions budgets which set a cap on economy-wide emissions,” she added.
Additionally, Steggall forecasts that commitments towards initial targets also influences a cheques-and-balances process within one government to the next, and from one Parliament to the next.
“Framework legislation secures long-term policy and planning and ensures climate change action with changes of government,” Steggall said.
“It does this by mandating the government of the day develop and implement plans to meet those budgets and adapt to warming, which ensures that plans are not shelved and forgotten.
“All plans are made with overarching principles like intergenerational equity, transparency, fiscal responsibility and the best available science to ensure these plans are fair, equitable and consistent with best practice,” she added.
“The UK has recognised that there is a serious opportunity in new industries like renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture and green finance and are planning to fully capitalise on these areas in the coming decades. And they have shown we can have both economic growth and still be able to protect our way of life,” she said.
Several Labor ministers, mainly possessing environment-related shadow portfolios, have previously come out to say that general environmental action by the current government is not only needed but overdue.
Terri Butler, the shadow minister for environment and water, singles out an all-talk-but-no-action conduct on the part of the Morrison government on one particular water issue in the recent cancellation of the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility (NWILF), an action which passed quietly without a single loan being awarded in its four-year existence, despite record droughts in some rural and regional areas.
“Despite Australian farmers and communities desperately struggling through one of the worst droughts on record, the Morrison Government shamefully held out false hope, with 50 press releases since 2016, for a fund that never delivered a single dollar to water infrastructure in four years,” said Butler about the demise of the NWILF, which was glossed over in the recent 2020-21 federal budget.
On a broader scale with a view towards a zero emissions goal by 2050, other shadow ministers – in establishing a foundation since cited by the ACTU – have assailed against the government’s inaction on the matter, even pointing out the economic penalties of lagging behind.
“The Morrison government’s approach of not adopting net zero emissions by 2050 will ‘in average annual terms, reduce Australia’s economic growth by three percent per year and cost around 310,000 jobs per year’,” Mark Butler, the shadow minister for climate change and energy, said last week while himself quoting figures from an impact study paper from Deloitte Access Economics.
“[It] will crush the trade, tourism, mining and services industries especially in Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory,” he added.
Others still have accused the current government of lacking credibility on its climate change record and potential for future commitments.
“Scott Morrison is creating a leadership vacuum in the region for other countries to fill,” Pat Conroy, the assistant shadow minister for climate change, said in September.
“Net zero emissions by 2050 is a target that’s supported by scientists, by every state in the country and by the broad business community.
“Our Pacific neighbours desperately need this government to take climate change seriously,” added Conroy.
The ACTU also points to the example established via the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that the same impact could occur again if governments – Australia’s, or anyone else’s – fail to act on establishing climate change targets.
“We know that the human cost of unchecked climate change will be appalling, but we have also seen this year the economic cost of wide-spread disruption to our society. This will be the reality of climate change and we must act now to avoid it,” said O’Neil.
“Businesses and working people need policy certainty on climate change,” added O’Neil, pointing once again to Steggall’s Climate Change Bill.
“All parties and MPs should support this bill which would finally bring us into line with the rest of the world on this critical issue,” she said.
Also by William Olson:
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